January 2014


The people of New York have had a mixed bag response to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tenure now that he’s transitioned back into civilian life.  On the one hand, a recent Quinnipiac poll shows that 64% of New Yorkers think Mayor Bloomberg was a success.  However, 57% of the city’s residents also think Bloomberg’s ban on large sodas should not be continued.

This confirms something we already know about ourselves as Americans.  You can be a friend of the rich like Bloomberg or try to redistribute wealth like de Blasio, but for the love of God, let us be fat.  We’re already being used and abused like we’re in a dysfunctional marriage, so at least let us have our super sized soft drinks.  I’m no exception to this.  I’m far from obese, but my right to consume sweets and chips is the reward I get for sacrificing most of my life to my corporate job.  So, while I’ve handed almost everything else over to those in power–woe to the person who dares touch my snacks.  This is about freedom, after all!  Well, my freedom to overeat, anyway.

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At work, I have been going through a few weeks of…well, if I can’t call it Hell, it can at least be described as Purgatory.  I work for a health insurance company which is participating in the Oregon insurance exchange, and we have been flooded by calls from new members.  Almost everyone in the company has been on the phones, talking to people who are frustrated about having to deal with Cover Oregon (the state exchange) and frustrated about having to deal with us.

Which leaves me with some questions.  Yes, the Cover Oregon website and phone line have been a fiasco, sort of like the federal healthcare.gov operation was when it first started.  But–and I can’t get into too many details here, because it’s a public blog and this is my employer I’m talking about–the company I work for was not exactly prepared for all the new business coming our way, either.  We were understaffed, so customers have been on hold for long times, often only to have the phone system hang up on them.  We’re not always sure where the applications of the new members are, or what their status is.  And yes, our website has been so overwhelmed by the amount of people trying to use it that it has experienced–can I use the word?–glitches. 

If we were a government agency, the conservatives would be all over us.  Healthcare.gov was bashed for the exact same things that are happening to us, by the usual suspects who say government can’t do anything right.  Yet I’m not hearing any commentary from our local talkers about the problems at the insurance providers.  It’s as if our mistakes somehow don’t count because our company is run for private profit.

It makes no sense to me.  But I know that our glitches are not going to be talked about the same way the government glitches were, because they can’t be used for a political purpose.  And it doesn’t make a difference to my daily life.  I’ll keep taking the angry calls, anyway.

Here we go again.  Experts are stating that in the next few decades robots will take over most of our jobs and we will no longer have to work.  Neil Jacobstein, head of AI at Singularity University, has this to say:

AIs will cause significant unemployment but that doesn’t equate with poverty…AIs and other exponential technologies are going to generate vast amounts of wealth.  We have to be willing to change the social contract we have with people about how wealth is distributed.

Haven’t we heard this song before?  In fact, don’t we hear it on a regular basis?  I remember the black and white films from the ’50s presenting a futuristic lifestyle in which machines do everything for us and all we have to do is find new ways to relax.  If their predictions had been true, I should have been spending the last 20 years or so with my feet up, drinking cocktails.  In fact, computers were supposed to make our lives simpler and easier.  Instead, life is even more complex, fast-paced, stressful.  I have a feeling running a robot society won’t change that any.  And I don’t even want to imagine what happens when we get our minds microchipped, as Mr. Jacobstein suggests–my employer would probably force me to process 10,000 thoughts per minute.

The truth is I don’t want these prophecies about the future to come true.  Because life in those ’50s visions of technological utopia looks…mind-numbingly boring.  People spend their days playing tennis and watching quiz shows on TV.  I already waste too much time on Facebook–would I spend even more time on there?  Sharing updates about what kind of food and drink the robots are serving me, since that would be my only activity anyway?  I suppose I would be able to blog more often.  But if people were no longer getting exploited and overworked by their capitalist bosses, what on Earth would I blog about?

Maybe the reason this makes me so uneasy is that if I didn’t work, there would no longer be any excuse for not getting started on that big fat novel I’m supposed to write.  Come to think of it, the ennui of people who do nothing all day is a perfect subject for angsty fiction.  Hmmm….bring on our robot overlords, I guess.

When I was little, I mimicked a saying I overheard from my Dad about a tiger biting off somebody’s balls.  The tiger-and-balls sentence happens to rhyme in Polish, which made it hilarious to both my Dad and me (we were at about the same maturity level).  When I repeated it to my Grandpa, I expected hysterical laughter.  Instead, he was aghast, and proceeded to express his strong views about the dangers of hippie childrearing.

Maybe I’m just getting too old for this, or maybe things have really gotten worse, because I’ve been aghast myself at some recent examples of foul language being directed at kids.  First, there was the video of a swearing toddler in Omaha, Nebraska.  In the video, a child still in diapers is both getting cursed at and encouraged to repeat cursewords and obscene phrases by the “adults” in his life.  Then, Madonna got in hot water for using the n-word to refer to her son on Instagram (she claims this was a “term of endearment”).

Now, we’re definitely in apples and oranges territory here.  Madonna’s use of the n-word obviously carries different racial connotations than the same word being used by the black family in the Nebraska video.  On the other hand, the toddler in the video is younger and more vulnerable than Madonna’s teenage son.  But I still come away from both situations with one thought–can we try to restrain our use of swearing and coarse language (not to mention racial slurs!) around our kids?  Regardless of whether we’re a regular working family or a wealthy celebrity, let’s try to set a good example for our children, and raise them to be polite and classy people.

God help me–I’ve turned into my grandfather, and I’m okay with that.

A coalition of food, farming and health groups has delivered a letter to President Obama asking him to stand by his pledge and support a law to require GMO labeling on foods.  I’m not sure why this is such a big deal.  Other countries have GMO labeling on food products and their food industries haven’t collapsed.

Actually, I do know why this is such a big deal.  In the world of sanity, this would be a simple requirement.  But in the world of right-wing paranoia, this is only the first step to the government taking over food production, and it brings us closer to that tragic day when you will walk into your local McDonald’s and the only thing on the menu (by order of Michelle Obama) will be an organic kale salad with low-fat vinaigrette dressing.  The day liberty dies.  I’m sure our highly profitable fast food companies are shaking in their boots.

And this is why we can’t have a normal conversation about anything anymore.

I’ve been seeing a lot of humorous posts lately about bronies.  Bronies–in case you haven’t heard the term bandied about–are adult male fans of My Little Pony.  They watch the TV show and movies, collect the toys, dress up in costume and go to conventions, etc etc.

The gender aspect of this doesn’t bother me at all.  I don’t care if it’s women or men that are into the pony thing.  What scares me a little is the concept of any adult–male or female–playing with My Little Ponies.  On the one hand, it’s a sign that we live in a prosperous society–prosperous enough that we can afford to be a little childish.  On the other hand, we are surrounded by plenty of other cultures which still take life with a deadly seriousness, including the idea of defeating us when it comes to technology, business and military power.

Everyone should be free to pursue their favorite hobbies.  I just have an uneasy feeling that China is about to eat us alive–at least in the economic sense–and that we’ll be too busy playing with dollies to notice.

 

He’s not a Communist.  I get so sick and tired of hearing this bullshit.  I grew up in a Communist state.  In fact, my family and I were political refugees from Eastern Europe due to our opposition to Communism.  We know what Communism is like.  If Obama is trying to be a Communist, he’s a failure at it.

For one thing, big business is flourishing under his administration.  The stock market is going up and companies are making huge profits.  In Communist society, big business didn’t exist.  All industries were supposed to be owned by the working class–which, in reality, amounted to them being owned by the government.  Yeah, business and the government have gotten uncomfortably close, and people are upset that certain companies are getting perks and breaks from the government.  I don’t like that either, but that’s not Communism.  In Communism, businessmen and profiteers were enemies of the government, not its friends.  What we’ve got can be more accurately defined as crony capitalism.  And Obama isn’t even very good at being a progressive President, otherwise more of those profits and perks enjoyed by the wealthy elites would get shared with the rest of us.  They aren’t, and he doesn’t seem to be taking any kind of radical action to make it happen.

The Communist state also doesn’t accept any free expression of views that are opposed to its ideology, and quashes all dissent.  For all the talk of Obama being a dictator, if there’s anything we’ve had plenty of since he became President, it’s been loud criticism of his administration.  And calling it “criticism” is putting it mildly–how about vitriol, fuming hatred, extreme name calling (see “Obama’s a Communist”).  I haven’t seen any of the incessant hateful speech about the President getting censored–nor should it be.  The talking heads who spend the most time on the airwaves yelling about how oppressive the Obama “regime” is would be in jail or off the radio a long time ago if they lived under a truly oppressive regime.  But they have no idea what that’s actually like, and it’s their job to yell, not to think.

A lot of people bring up Obamacare or government health care as an example of the “Communism” in question.  But there are many countries like Germany or Holland or Sweden that have government health care and are not Communist at all.  They are a mix of capitalism with a welfare state.  I realize there are some for whom any political system which is not unrestrained capitalim is automatically bad, but one should at least try to make distinctions.  I can say from personal experience that the difference between living in Communist Eastern Europe and Western Europe was like night and day.

And that’s the point.  If you dislike Obama–for any reason–fine.  But it does you no good in presenting your argument if you do so using exaggerated and incorrect terms.  If anything, Obama is a President who attempts to implement moderate Republican policies like Romneycare, and does so in a bumbling way.  I realize that doesn’t quite have the zing of “Communist!” to it, but reality seldom gives us that exciting zing.

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